Court frees three over killing of newsagent

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MICHAEL O'BRIEN has had plenty of time to choose his words carefully. Jailed 11 years ago for a murder he always insisted he did not commit, he and two others yesterday had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal.

Standing outside the court yesterday, Mr O'Brien, said: "I have got mixed feelings. I am pleased that my name has been cleared but I also feel for the victim's family. We know who the real killer is - his name has been mentioned in court. It is up to the police to arrest him."

He called for a public inquiry into a series of investigations by South Wales Police, the force that arrested him and charged him with murder. His demands were supported by his barrister, Michael Mansfield QC.

"This is not the only case like this - there are more than 10," said Mr O'Brien, who, with his co-appellants, had been on bail. Mr O'Brien, 32, along with Darren Hall and Ellis Sherwood - known as the Cardiff Newsagent Three - were convicted in 1988 of the 1987 murder of newsagent Philip Saunders. Mr Saunders died in hospital five days after being attacked in his back yard in the Welsh capital by someone wielding a shovel. He was never able to identify his killer to the police.

Central to the prosecution's case at the 1988 trial was a confession made to police by Mr Hall that he had acted as a lookout for the others during a "robbery that went wrong".

During the appeal, which was ordered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the court was told the confessions could not be relied on because Mr Hall, who was 18 at the time and has since retracted his confession, was suffering from an "anti-social personality disorder". He was prone to exaggeration - once he confessed to a robbery which took place while he was on remand for another offence.

The prosecution's own psychiatric expert conceded that Mr Hall's admissions were "at risk of being unreliable". The hearing also raised questions about the conduct of South Wales Police, who were said by the CCRC to have shown a "systematic disregard" of interrogation rules under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.

The court was told that Mr Hall was denied access to a solicitor during crucial parts of his interrogation, which included the period when he made his admissions, and was at times handcuffed to a radiator.

Yesterday, after hearing nine days of evidence, Lord Justice Roch said he and fellow judges Mr Justice Keene and Mr Justice Astill, would give a full judgement in the New Year.

After the ruling, Mr O'Brien and Mr Hall said they would be taking civil action against the South Wales Police. Citing a series of convictions involving the same force which had been overturned on appeal in recent years, Mr O'Brien claimed that there was evidence of "institutionalised corruption".

"The only way this is going to come out is to have a full, open public inquiry. If it takes me another 10 years I am going to do it. I am going to become South Wales Police's worst nightmare," Mr O'Brien said.